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How to Write Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes For Your Online Course

Writing goals, objectives, and outcomes for your online course is essentially creating a map for you to follow as you develop your online course.

What’s the difference between goals, objectives, and outcomes and why does it even matter?

There is a difference, although some bits are interchangeable. It matters because if you don’t know exactly where you’re going, how can you get students there?

Let’s look at the difference in kind of a big picture style.

We’ll start with K-12 schools and how they do it. 

In schools, goals are overarching big things. A music goal might be:

  • The learner can use the elements of music to communicate new musical ideas and works.

Objectives are smaller pieces that move the learner toward the goal. In schools, these are usually based on standards, like:

  • The learner can compose and arrange music.

And then there are outcomes. Outcomes are also called Indicators of Learning in schools. They are basically the specific things the learner should be able to do when the lesson is over, for example:

  • The learner can compose and arrange melodies with simple harmonic accompaniments.

You can see how the goal is broad, the objective is a bit more focused, and the outcomes are very specific. 

What about courses for adults?

This is how it works when you’re creating online courses for adults, too. Let’s look at one of those examples.

The goal of an online course might be:

  • The learner can grow a successful backyard vegetable garden.

One of the objectives might be:

  • The learner can plan a garden for their soil and zone. 

Remember that a goal is broad, so it might have multiple objectives, like:

  • The learner can sow a garden following best practices.
  • The learner can tend a garden to harvest. 

Each of these objectives has lots of little steps inside them. If we look at the first objective I in the gardening course, some outcomes/steps might be:

  • The learner can analyze their soil.
  • The learner can select vegetables for the soil and the amount of sun available.
  • The learner can use companion planting techniques. 

Ugh. It’s Too Much Work

Why is it important to break things down so much? You might be thinking. Can’t I just teach them everything I know about vegetable gardening?

Yes. Of course. What would you teach them first?

The likely answer is that you would start at preparing the soil and choosing the right plants. You wouldn’t start in the middle and you wouldn’t start at the end. It doesn’t make sense.

Setting goals and objectives puts a frame on what you know. It gives learners a map for where they are going so they stay oriented. 

The outcomes are especially important. You want to clearly list out exactly what you want your learner to be able to do by the end of a lesson for two important reasons. 

One, your learner knows what they are supposed to be able to do so they shoulder some of the responsibility of getting there. 

And two, it helps you, the course creator, stay focused and make sure you teach them exactly what they need to be taught to be successful. 

My point is this. Don’t start creating your course until you know where you’re going. 

Your Turn

hink about a course that you want to create, you are currently creating, or one that you need to revamp. Write down your overall goal for the course. What transformation is your learner going to experience? 

Then think about and write down the four to six general things that your learner needs to know to accomplish the course goal. These may morph a bit when you start writing your outcomes and that’s okay. 

Under each of those general topics, list steps. You can write it as an outcome, such as ‘The learner will understand the importance of plant spacing’. Or you can just write a note, like ‘plant spacing’ and flesh it out after. 

Each of your topics should have four to seven outcomes to keep it manageable. If you find that you have more than seven outcomes, take a closer look at the relationships between those outcomes and see if that can’t be broken down into two distinct topics.

This process isn’t neat. Here’s an example of my notes. 

Handwritten organizational chart listing the goal of the backyard gardening course, the 4 objectives, and the outcomes listed under each objective.
Getting organized

Community Conversation

When you’ve completed this, post a comment on the companion video to this blog post on YouTube. Let me know if you struggled with any part of this activity or if you still have questions. I’ll try to answer all the questions I can, but if you have experience and can answer questions, please jump in! 

Looking for More Help on Creating your Online Course?

Download my free ebook Online Course Creation Made Easy: 25 Activities to Engage Your Online Learners.

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